WASHINGTON—U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte, tapped Thursday by President Bush to be the first director of national intelligence, will be taking on one of the most difficult jobs in government as he oversees a sweeping reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community.
Negroponte, 65, if confirmed by the Senate, would run 15 secret bureaucracies—eight of them within the Pentagon—that jealously guard their turfs, cultures and budgets. These agencies don't always communicate with each other, and they've been accused of failing to detect the 2001 attacks. Some produced faulty analyses of Iraq's illegal arms programs.
He'll be forced to confront the most serious problem facing the intelligence community: recruiting spies capable of penetrating regimes such as those of Iran and North Korea and the leadership of al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.
The independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks recommended placing the agencies under a single national intelligence director to boost the government's ability to fight terrorism and other threats.
"If we're going to stop the terrorists before they strike, we must ensure that our intelligence agencies work as a single, unified enterprise," Bush said.
Officially, responsibility for running the Intelligence Community had belonged to the CIA director. But in practice, the person in that job has been consumed with overseeing the CIA, lacked authority over other agencies and had no control over most of the annual intelligence budget, now estimated at about $40 billion.
Some lawmakers and current and former intelligence officials have raised concerns about the legislation passed by Congress in December:
_That the new national intelligence director may lack sufficient powers, especially over the budget.
_That the law left lines of authority blurred, especially to the military intelligence agencies overseen by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld.
_That Congress may have added a new layer of officialdom that will hinder, not improve, intelligence operations and the flow of information to the president and other policy-makers.
An effort "meant to streamline the Intelligence Community risks doing exactly the opposite," warned Robert Hutchings, who recently resigned as chairman of the National Intelligence Council, a group that produces the most important intelligence assessments for the president.
"At the very time that the terrorist challenge is becoming more eclectic, decentralized and networked, we are organizing ourselves in a highly centralized way," he said. "I worry that this is the wrong model for dealing with the terrorist challenge."
Bush sought to dispel questions about the new post. Negroponte would have the power to order intelligence missions and the sharing of information among agencies, the president said. He also would have the power to put together the annual intelligence budget, he said.
CIA Director Porter Goss would no longer report directly to Bush, but to Negroponte, who would take over the job of providing the president's daily intelligence briefing.
"Vesting these authorities in a single official who reports directly to me will make our intelligence efforts better coordinated, more efficient and more effective," Bush said.
Negroponte has been a consumer of intelligence as a senior diplomat. Several lawmakers said his service in Iraq and his decades in the diplomatic corps, including stints as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Mexico and Honduras, have provided him with the management tools he needs.
Experts also said that Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, nominated by Bush as Negroponte's deputy, would make up for Negroponte's lack of intelligence experience.
Hayden is the longest-serving head of the National Security Agency, the super-secret agency that eavesdrops on global communications and is the largest component of the Intelligence Community.
Bush acknowledged that Negroponte would have to surmount challenges.
"This is going to take awhile to get a new culture in place, a different way of approaching the budget," said Bush.
The director will oversee 15 diverse, entrenched intelligence bureaucracies totaling tens of thousands of people with separate jurisdictions, manage competitions for resources and coordinate unified judgments on key issues.
"The major challenge ... is to transform the Intelligence Community," Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "We're not talking about minor, incremental changes."
It remains unclear how much authority Negroponte would have over the Pentagon's agencies, which consume an estimated 80 percent of the overall intelligence budget.
Bush said Negroponte would have the power to set the overall annual intelligence budget and to direct how these funds are spent.
But the law creating the post hobbles the director's ability to shift funds between agencies.
"The money is going to be flowing to the Pentagon, and he will have very little authority to do anything about that," said Lee Strickland, director of the Center for Information Policy at the University of Maryland, who retired in 2004 after 30 years at the CIA.
James L. Pavitt, former CIA deputy director for operations, said Negroponte was "a very good choice," but cautioned his job would be "a daunting challenge."
He'll have to take the 15 separate intelligence agencies and "build them into the most capable and harmonious intelligence machine" possible, said Pavitt, who retired last year as the CIA spy chief. He'll also need to be sensitive to the uniqueness of each agency to ensure it remains best at its mission, whether that's running spies, eavesdropping or other work, Pavitt said.
(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent Warren P. Strobel contributed to this report.)
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): John Negroponte
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050217 INTELLIGENCE
Need to map